A Vietnamese summer roll was perched delicately between my fingers. I didn't want to appear unappreciative about my little present in rice paper, but my appetite made restraint difficult.
The summer roll was midway between plate and mouth when first mate Shawn Bragg shot a knowing glance in my direction.
"We're gettin' fat here," he said.
Not really what you want to hear on the verge of consumption, but the exclamation delivered with a hint of Southern drawl was certainly more compliment than caveat. One bite through soft rice paper and into a crunchy orchestration of fried shallots, boiled shrimp, cellophane noodles, lettuce, carrots and fresh mint, and I knew my taste buds were in for foodie's feast.
What I had yet to learn was that guests aboard this 100-foot Azimut Jumbo get a touch of flavor, a hint of character, during all aspects of a charter. From the yacht's design to the crew's personalities, Melimar offers a unique experience among yachts her LOA.
A fitting example is Melimar's interior. Her layout of a master, VIP and two twins doesn't come as a surprise, but her character comes alive when you realize she was built to be wheelchair accessible. As a result, she has slightly wider doorways and passageways throughout than most yachts in her size range, and designers made the saloon as airy and accommodating as possible. High-gloss cherry finish and the requisite entertainment systems are in this space, but particularly nice is view of the water guests get when sitting on one of Melimar's plush sofas.
Melimar's inherent comfort is great for charter, but her crew (all of whom are quite fit, lest there be any confusion) plays an essential role, as well.
Bragg and stewardess Chanda Martin offer on-the-water experience and creativity. Bragg spent four years in the Coast Guard, then did two years of underwater yacht maintenance before entering the charter scene a few years ago.
Martin studied art in college, and her creativity shines through with the elaborate theme nights she organizes. For a recent '70s party, guests donned costumes that could have been borrowed from the set of Saturday Night Fever, and she transformed Melimar's interior to look the part, complete with a spinning disco ball. The official Bee Gees tribute band was flown in from England.
Capt. Jon Christiansen, who is quick to admit, "I couldn't have a better crew, says what really makes Melimar so successful is the yacht's owners."
"They treat it like a business and allow us to do what we need to," he said. "It's working-we just finished up one guest's charter that was his fourth in 18 months."
No doubt chef Pamela McGrath's cooking plays a big part in bringing charter guests back. Our summer rolls were followed by crisp, fried spring rolls filled with pork, dried shrimp, spring onion, fried eggs and bean sprouts, finished with a sweet and sour chili dipping sauce. Both dishes showed off what McGrath learned when she trained in restaurants such as Indochine in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Her talents extend beyond her flair for Asian cooking. During dinner, a light yet robust shrimp bisque was a fine prelude to the main dish of pan-seared mahi-mahi resting on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes topped with puttanesca and fried spring onions. The puttanesca was a quick bolt of flavor that perfectly enhanced the mellow taste of the mahi-mahi and potatoes.
Just as every taste of McGrath's cooking leaves flavors to be enjoyed long after meals are finished, so does the entire charter experience aboard Melimar.